KOTA KINABALU: The government is still in the process of selecting a contractor to extend the runway of Sandakan Airport and the project is expected to start in April this year.
The Ministry of Transport disclosed this in a reply to Sandakan member of parliament Stephen Wong Tien Fatt in the Parliament sitting. However, it did not explain why the project which originally was supposed to start in August last year but was extended to April this year.
Regarding the specific number of passengers in Sandakan, the Ministry of Tourism indicated that the department itself did not conduct specific statistics on respective cities and districts, so there is no information on the number of visitors to Sandakan.
However, the ministry pointed out that there are 3.68 million tourists in Sabah, of which 1.23 million are international tourists.
In 2017, tourists generated RM7.8 billion revenue in Sabah itself, an increase of eight percent from RM7.2 billion in 2016.
As for the development of Pasir Putih, the ministry responded that in the 11th Malaysia Plan, the Sandakan parliamentary district received a total of RM700,000 allocation to develop Borneon Sun Bear Conversation Centre eco-tourism development project in Sepilok.
In Sabah, in order to develop eco-tourism, the ministry confirmed that eight eco-tourism development clusters will be developed in Sabah, one of which is eco-tourism cluster from Sandakan to Kinabatangan. The development of Pasir Putih is one of them but the related authorities did not respond specifically on how to develop Pasir Putih.
After reading the written replies, Wong said it was obvious that the government did not have any macro ideas to develop the tourism industry in Sandakan. Even the Pasir Putih Beach in Sandakan was only vaguely involving in a series of plans.
“The BN government cannot explain how to develop. This shows that the related authorities have no intention to develop Sandakan tourism, despite the fact that Sabah’s tourism revenue is impressive.
“In fact, Sabah is one of the best tourist destinations in the country and the tourism industry is developing very fast. However, Sandakan does not gain any benefits from the booming tourism industry in Sabah,” he said in a statement yesterday.
He asked further, “Sabah has RM 7.8 billion in terms of tourism revenue. How many percent belongs to Sandakan in the end? 10 percent?”
Moreover, based on his understanding, the hotel industry in Sandakan has a room occupancy rate of only 30 percent. In other words, the vacancy rate is as high as 70 percent. This simply shows that the tourism industry in Sandakan is not performing well.
In contrast, the hotels in Kota Kinabalu are in short supply. More hotels need to be built in Kota Kinabalu but the hotels in Sandakan are available everyday.
For instance, compared to Kota Kinabalu and Tawau, the Kota Kinabalu International Airport and Tawau Airport have grown by around 40 percent in the past five years. However, the passenger volume at Sandakan Airport grew by only eight percent. This shows that Sandakan’s tourism industry has not been noticed for a long time and the related authorities have been ignoring Sandakan’s desire to develop tourism industry, Wong said.
Furthermore, according to the Tourism Ministry’s data, the tourism tax in Sabah is levied at RM4.53 million, which is the second highest in the country. This shows that the tourism development in Sabah is prosperous, but unfortunately, Sandakan did not gain any benefit.
“In terms of tourism industry, it is unlikely that Sandakan would lose to other locations. As a historic city, Sandakan has beautiful and historic monuments, such as the Chinese monuments and the Sandakan Memorial Park to commemorate the death march. These are monuments that can attract tourists but the government did not take it seriously. Apart from the development of eco-tourism, the government also ignored the fact that Sandakan is a city with good humanistic tourism values,” he added.